Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 1: Student Achievement in Mathematics

What Are the Gender Differences in Mathematics Achievement?

Exhibit 1.5 presents average mathematics achievement separately for girls and boys for each of the participating entities, as well as the difference between the means, in increasing order of the difference. The gender difference for each entity is shown by a bar indicating the amount of the difference, whether its direction favored girls or boys, and whether it is statistically significant (a darkened bar).

It is good news that in mathematics at the eighth grade, the TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking Study shows relatively equivalent average achievement for girls and boys in each of the Benchmarking jurisdictions. The United States as well as a number of other countries around the world appear to be making progress towards gender equity in mathematics education. On average across all TIMSS 1999 countries, there was a modest but significant difference favoring boys, although this varied considerably from country to country. The only countries with differences large enough to be statistically significant were Israel, the Czech Republic, Iran, and Tunisia.

Although achievement differences between the genders are becoming smaller in mathematics, research indicates that they still exist in those areas involving the most complex mathematical tasks, particularly as students progress to middle and secondary schools.(8) Thus, Exhibit 1.6 provides information on gender differences in mathematics achievement among students with high performance compared with those in the middle of the achievement distribution. For each entity, score levels were computed for the highest-scoring 25 percent of students, called the upper quarter level, and for the highest-scoring 50 percent, called the median level. The percentages of girls and boys in each entity reaching each of the two levels were computed. For equitable performance, 25 percent each of girls and boys should have reached the upper quarter level, and 50 percent the median level.

On average across countries, 23 percent of girls compared with 27 percent of boys reached the upper quarter level, and 49 percent of girls compared with 51 percent of boys reached the median level. These gender differences, although small, were statistically significant. In all but four countries, however, the percentages reaching the upper quarter and median levels were not significantly different, indicating that gender equity exists in most countries at these levels. Even though the four countries with significant differences did include the United States (as well as Israel, the Philippines, and Tunisia), this was not reflected in the results for the Benchmarking jurisdictions. Michigan was the only Benchmarking jurisdiction to show a significant gender difference favoring males among high-performing students.



8 Fennema, E. (1996), “Mathematics, Gender, and Research” in G. Hanna (ed.), Towards Equity in Mathematics Education, Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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TIMSS 1999 is a project of the International Study Center
Boston College, Lynch School of Education